Shelfie: Revolutionary or Pointless?

Shelfie—formerly BitLit—is an app service that allows users to bundle their print books with e-books. All you have to do is take a picture of your book shelf and Shelfie then identifies what books are available to download. Then take a picture of your book with your name written in it, and then your book is sent to your e-reader or in PDF format. You can also log in to your Goodreads account. Though the app is free, not all books are free. Some books have to be re-bought, in order for Shelfie to make money. The idea is solid, but the practice still needs some work. As a writer on CNET said:

BitLit currently offers a very limited selection — only about 75,000 books, so the likelihood of a match is pretty slim. Browsing the library, I recognized very few mainstream authors.

But Shelfie is branching out to bigger publishing partners. Last year, Shelfie partnered with Macmillian, bringing under 3,000 titles to the app. Shelfie has also partnered with HarperCollins, going from “just a handful of titles to about 10,000.” And Shelfie keeps adding more publishers:

“Since adding Wiley in January, BitLit has grown its title count by an additional 20,000 to a current total of just under 100,000 titles, and its roster of participating publishers has risen from approximately to 280 to 350 over the same period.”

“BitLit is on track to hit 250,000 titles later this year and confirms the company is in talks with all of the Big Five.”

Shelfie is also adding audiobooks to the collection:

“Around 20,000 audiobook are being added to the service today, including the entire HarperAudio catalog (over 4,500 audiobooks) as well as titles from Blackstone Audio, Gildan Media, Hachette Audio, and Naxos Audiobooks; and audiobooks by such bestselling authors as Michael Connelly, James Patterson, Chris Kyle, and Haruki Murakami.”

Shelfie may be the bundling path of the future, other than publishers directly doing it, but there is a major question to be brought up: Will piracy be a big issue?

Anyone who takes a picture of the his/her book must write their name in pen inside, but how will that stop them from using books that they do not own? According to the CEO Peter Hudson:

“Their computer vision algorithms can verify that the physical book is real …  the particular physical book has not been previously registered with BitLit … plan to manually audit a portion of registrations to prevent gaming of the system.”

Shelfie also allows their partnered publishers to have a system of DRM applied to the files. But not all readers are going to want DRM files. If a reader downloads an e-book specifically for Kindle, and they go out and forget the Kindle at home or forget to charge it, it does not seem fair to the reader to not be able to read the e-book on a phone or computer. Publishers have a fear of readers downloading e-books and then sharing them with friends and family, but how is that any different from someone buying a print book and letting others borrow it? It is free publicity for the book. There is an honour system for the readers. Not every reader will pirate the book, but one will. But loyal readers will always pay for books, even pay extra to bundle the formats. Using Shelfie already proves that the reader chose to pay for the book.

Shelfie is still relatively new, and because of that, the app is still in progress. They still have a limited range of books, but they are growing. And they are working with publishers concerned about piracy. Once the issues are dealt with, the app could be a great asset to readers. It gives print readers the opportunity to read their favourite book whenever they want. But one thing as a reader I would change is writing your name in the book. I refuse to write in my books. Maybe since it is called Shelfie, how about readers take selfies with their books instead?


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